News

The curtain's about to fall at punk-rock palace CBGB

Ethan Sacks [New York Daily News]

NEW YORK - For fans of CBGB, "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" is no longer just the title of a tune by the Ramones.

A performance by punk pioneer and CBGB alumna Patti Smith next Sunday will be the final show at the legendary lower East Side music club before the doors close for good on Oct. 31.

The club is exiting stage left after 32 years, a victim of a rent dispute with the space's landlord, the Bowery Residents' Committee, a not-for-profit homeless services agency.

And in the club's waning days, generations of fans are making their final pilgrimages to what some called "the music institution" at 315 Bowery.

"It may be small but it's a big staple in the city," said Rob Basso, 20, a sanitation worker from Westchester County, N.Y., before attending his first show at the club. "There's a lot of history here."

Dori Sarcone, 33, said she has attended "hundreds of shows" at the club, and she lamented that now she will never be able to realize her dream of getting married onstage.

Harley Flanagan, 39, the heavily tattooed bassist for the hard-core band Cro-Mags, brought his 4-year-old son to CBGB for a recent show so he could experience the vibe.

"CBGB's changed the face of rock in New York City and gave countless bands opportunities they might never have had ... to be seen and heard ... at the palace of punk," the legendary rocker Lou Reed told the New York Daily News. "It will be sorely missed if it does in fact go into the ether of memories."

Since the club's opening in January 1974, the Ramones, Blondie, Television and the Talking Heads are just a few among the who's who of punk and new wave bands that squeezed through the narrow, dimly lit club on the way to the big time.

Not all of that history, however, is being left behind. Owner Hilly Kristal said he's negotiating to open up a CBGB in Las Vegas, as early as March.

For now, he'll open an office on Bond Street to keep the brand name - CBGB stands for Country, Bluegrass and Blues, the kinds of music Kristal originally intended to offer at the club - going through T-shirt sales.

Wherever the next CBGB ends up, Kristal said he's planning to take everything he can with him: the stage, the bar, the floorboards and assorted memorabilia. The scraps, he said, may be auctioned on eBay.

"We're going to take the urinals," Kristal said. "Joey (Ramone) went to the bathroom there.

"We can charge admission," he said, laughing.

Kristal hasn't had much to joke about recently; the 75-year-old learned he had lung cancer in June.

"I'll be around for a few years. As long as I'm around" CBGB will continue in some form, he said.

The rent dispute began last year, when the Bowery Resident's Committee sent a notice that Kristal owed $91,000 in back rent. Kristal contended the bill stemmed from rent increases he was never told about. He said the terms to renew the lease were double or triple the $19,000 he paid per month.

A deal reached shortly after the lease expired on Aug. 31, 2005, allowed Kristal to stay in the club for 14 more months - in exchange for ending the court battle and attempts to turn the space into a historic landmark.

Representatives from the Bowery Residents' Committee did not return calls seeking comment last week.

In the meantime, CBGB isn't going quietly.

Lyle Preslar, guitarist for Minor Threat, a seminal hard-core band that first played at CBGB in 1980, paid his respects by attending a show headlined by Fishbone.

The 43-year-old said he lamented the loss of a place where people who loved playing music could meet those who loved to listen to it. "I guess it's like a clubhouse," Preslar said. "Only it's much, much louder."

___

© 2006, New York Daily News. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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